7 Renowned Women in Healthcare History

Women have significantly shaped the world of healthcare, and this legacy continues to thrive today. Nurses, administrators, researchers, and doctors – regardless of discipline or specialty, women have been at the forefront of innovation and progress within the healthcare and medical sector. Many have left a profound legacy that continues to shape how we view healthcare today.

Throughout history, nurses have always been at the forefront of providing healthcare, and they are often the unsung heroes in our communities. Women have been particularly successful and pioneering in the nursing field, leaving an indelible mark on healthcare as we know it today. Renowned nurse trailblazers such as Florence Nightingale, Clara Barton, and Mary Eliza Mahoney have revolutionized medical care for generations across the globe.

This Women’s History Month, we’re acknowledging these astounding women in healthcare and all they’ve done for the field throughout history and their contributions to our modern world.

7 Renowned Women in Healthcare

1. Susie Walking Bear Yellowtail

Susie Walking Bear Yellowtail is an inspirational leader who advocated for health care and women’s rights. Also known as “Grandmother of American Indian Nurses.” She was one of the first Native American nurses in the United States and the first among the Crow people. She represents a beacon of strength, faith, and determination during a time when Indigenous people were subjugated by the federal government.

Her fervor drove her to pursue a career in not only health care but also social justice. Spurred on by a passion to advocate better health care and education opportunities for Indigenous people, Susie Walking Bear Yellowtail served on national councils and with various U.S. departments as a representative for her people.

2. Mary Eliza Mahoney

Mary Eliza Mahoney was a trailblazing healthcare worker who pushed boundaries and helped revolutionize healthcare for women. She is famously celebrated as the first African American woman to earn a nursing license in the United States. Her groundbreaking actions have provided a platform of healthcare services that many women now access and benefit from today.

Throughout her career, she also worked to elevate the status of nurses, promote healthcare reform, and support rights for those seeking healthcare. She remains an incredible role model for all healthcare workers, especially female healthcare professionals, and has truly left an extraordinary mark on history.

3. Clara Barton

Clara Barton was an American healthcare pioneer. In 1861, at the time of the Civil War, she set up a system of nurses caring for injured soldiers. After the war, with permission from President Lincoln, she opened the Office of Missing Soldiers, reconnecting more than 20,000 soldiers with their families.

It wasn’t until a trip to Switzerland in 1869, that Clara learned about the Red Cross movement, a European humanitarian effort to provide neutral aid to those injured in combat. Clara is best known for bringing that movement to America and starting what is today the American Red Cross.

Although Clara devoted her life to healthcare improvements, her impact on history goes far beyond health; she was also a strong supporter of women’s equality and worked passionately to support their rights during a time when it wasn’t popular to do so.

4. Annie Dodge Wauneka

Annie Dodge Wauneka is a true American hero whose dedication to healthcare and advocacy for Indigenous women left a mark on American history. Born in 1910 to a Navajo family on the Arizona reservation, Wauneka used her unique perspective as a woman of color to champion healthcare reform in her own community. She traveled throughout the region providing health care instruction and education and inspiring hundreds of Indigenous people with her positive messages about health, politics, and justice.

Her commitment extended beyond the healthcare field. She realized the best way to change the standards of health and sanitation among tribal members was from within. She was elected to the Tribal Council in 1951 and served three terms in office.

In addition, she wrote a dictionary to translate English words into Navajo for modern medical techniques. She also served on the advisory boards of the U.S. Surgeon General and the U.S. Public Health Service. She continued working in her community on health issues until her death in 1997.

5. Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale is widely known as one of history’s most famous healthcare pioneers. Credited as the founder of modern nursing she worked to improve healthcare standards in the 19th century. Her efforts not only revolutionized healthcare but also paved the way for women’s involvement in medical practice.

She served as a nurse in the Crimean War and even wrote the book Notes On Nursing as the cornerstone of the curriculum at the Nightingale School and other nursing schools. Despite tremendous obstacles due to prejudices against women, she persevered with tenacity and changed the course of healthcare history forever.

6. Antonia Novello

Antonia Novello, MD is a true healthcare hero who made history and opened countless doors for women in healthcare. Born in Puerto Rico, she has dedicated her life to health care and public health. In 1990 she became the first female and Latina Surgeon General, serving under both George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

She left her mark on healthcare reform by advocating for health insurance coverage for uninsured children, which resulted in more than 8 million children gaining health insurance coverage under the Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Additionally, she is a tireless advocate of preventive health initiatives that focused on improving health outcomes among women—emphasizing the importance of breast cancer screenings, and reproductive health services such as cervical cancer prevention. Antonia Novello deserves immense recognition for her lifetime achievements in the field of health care. To this day, she remains a respected leader within healthcare circles while continuing to make valuable contributions to her patients, her community, and her medical discipline.

7. Isabel Morgan

Dr. Isabel Morgan was an American virologist at Johns Hopkins University. Her research was paramount in producing the polio vaccine. She was the first to successfully use a killed virus for polio inoculation in monkeys.

Dr. Isabel Morgan was a healthcare innovator and an overwhelmingly important figure in the history of healthcare access for women. She not only made incredible accomplishments professionally, setting multiple health standards, but she also pushed the boundaries of acceptance for female healthcare professionals.

Women’s History Month

In honor of Women’s History Month, let us remember the accomplishments of these women and all they’ve done for healthcare. Their stories are evidence that even in its toughest moments, female leadership will continue to shape modern healthcare standards and move healthcare forward into a brighter future.

This month, take some time to learn more about these inspiring women and their stories. Help us keep their legacy alive by sharing what you’ve learned with others. Let’s also commit to honoring all the important women in our lives this month – and every month!